Best known for her quirky characters like joyologist Helen Madden, Superstar spaz Mary Katherine Gallagher, and camel-toed quinquagenarian Sally O’Malley, Emmy-nominated Saturday Night Live veteran Molly Shannon mouths off on her latest role as foxy mama Kath opposite Selma Blair’s Kim in Kath & Kim (premiering October 9 on NBC), an American version of Australia’s hit series about a deliciously dysfunctional mother-daughter relationship. As for the 43-year-old’s love for closeted comics, bisexual writers, and trashy hookers? Don’t even get her started.
By Brandon Voss
The Advocate: When did you first know that the gays loved you?
Molly Shannon: Once I started doing Saturday Night Live, I would see people imitating me and men started sending me pictures of themselves dressed up as my characters, I was like, Oh, my God, this is so funny!
What was your first exposure to gay people?
I went to NYU drama school, and I loved it. It was filled with wonderful gay people. Alec Mapa was in my [class], and one of my best friends was a dancer.
Who’s your best gay friend now?
I can’t say! I’d feel bad if I just selected one — and I’d get in trouble.
Do you think the U.S. version of Kath & Kim will appeal to a large gay audience?
Oh, yeah. For starters, it’s a female-driven comedy, and our characters are really into celebrity and the world of pop culture. There may be a future episode where they have a party and all dress up like celebrities that they don’t look like at all — like, “I’m Nicole Kidman!” It’s ridiculous.
Kath’s boyfriend is suspiciously effeminate in the original series. Has that carried over?
Yes, that has carried over, and there will probably be an episode where someone tells her they suspect that he’s gay, and she becomes panicked — "Oh, my God, is he gay? He’s gay! Gay! Gay! Gay!"
Were any of your SNL characters lesbians?
Yes, the stand-up comic character, Jeanie Darcy — “Don’t even get me started.” That’s a favorite of mine. When I created that character, I considered her to be a closeted lesbian who talks about dating men because she’s obviously very out of touch with her sexuality. So she’s doing straight comedy, but she’s a big dyke.
I also assumed that your Delicious Dish NPR cohost character wasn’t that into Alec Baldwin’s Schweddy Balls, if you know what I mean.
Ooh, that’s interesting! That was never a character choice, but I like that. She’s another one who’s bit repressed.
So if you were going to swing that way, who would it be for?
I have lots of girl-crushes. I love Gwyneth Paltrow, and I want to read all about her life and her husband, but it’s not sexual. For getting down and dirty, I’d like someone like [Eliot Spitzer’s former mistress] Ashley Dupré — a real trashy, big-boobed, ankle bracelet-wearing, French-manicured hooker.
In Gray Matters you played best friend to Heather Graham’s character, who’s coming to terms with her lesbianism. Have you been that person in real life?
I have, in many situations. It’s a real honor. I used to wait tables, and once this 16-year-old kid came in crying, “I just came out to my parents, and my mother kicked me out of the house!” I just felt so bad. And one of my best friends that I grew up with in Cleveland is a lesbian, and she came out when we were sophomores in college. Her mother heard about it from another mother and threw a phone across the room! I’ve probably gone through that process with 50 friends who have come out.
Then you must’ve known Rosie O’Donnell was gay when you appeared on her talk show seven times.
I did know that, yes. But there’s a different timing for everybody, and I try to have compassion for that. I would love for everyone to come out because it’s great for the world, but I understand people struggling with that fear, so I try not to judge that.
You starred in Year of the Dog by writer-director Mike White, who’s bisexual. What is it with you and projects with a queer sensibility?
Oh, my God, don’t even get me started! Mike White is a great friend of mine, and I get the biggest smile on my face when I talk about him. We just crack up, and we find the same kooky, dark things funny. Words cannot even describe my adoration and love for him. He is a gift. The way he sees things is so different, and he loves female characters that are complicated and interesting in a way that you might not get from a straight male writer.
You were also in Mike’s short-lived Fox series Cracking Up. One son seemed gay in the pilot, but that subplot quickly vanished. What happened there?
Mike sold the network one thing that was pure Mike White: a dysfunctional, messed-up Beverly Hills family where my character was a pill-popping, alcoholic, bipolar housewife, and one kid was probably gay… Then Mike was under a lot of pressure from the network to change it — “Oh, it’s too dark! We don’t want Molly drunk and angry; we want her happy like I Love Lucy!” It was extremely stressful for all of us, but the great thing that came out of that was my friendship with Mike.
Was it difficult working as a woman in the “boys’ club” environment of SNL during the late ’90s?
If you didn’t create your own thing, it would be hard to wait around for someone to write something for you, but I didn’t blame the guys so much. They just wanted to write more about bears and robots — boys will be boys. It’s nothing personal against women. I thought, They’re just writing what they know, so now I have to write what I know. As opposed to being victimized, what came out of that struggle was me creating my own stuff, which ended up being great.
Since leaving SNL in 2001, has anything made you wish you were still on the show so that you could spoof it?
Liza Minnelli, when she went through the divorce from David Gest, after they were like, “We want to adopt children from all over the world!” I really loved that.
In the 1999 HBO special Larry David: Curb Your Enthusiasm, someone spreads a rumor that you “fucked two guys to death.” Did you approve that?
I did approve it. I know Larry David, and I was on a plane with him and [costar] Jeff Garlin, flying from L.A. to New York. He was like, I’m writing a joke about a rumor, and I want to put you in it. So he pitched me some different rumors, and I was like, “No, I don’t want to do that.” Then he was like, “Would it be OK if I say that you fuck men to death?” And I was like, I love it!
You were an amazing alcoholic in Talledega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby. What’s the drunkest you’ve ever been?
Just as I was about to leave Saturday Night Live, there was an after-party at Houston’s. They made the strongest cosmopolitans, so I got so rip-roaring, crazy drunk. Tina Fey and Amy Poehler were there, and my husband before I married him. We had the best time, but I felt sick the next morning. I’m not a big drinker. I’ll occasionally have a glass of wine with dinner, but I have little kids and get up at 6 a.m. every day, so that’s not so much a part of my life now. But I’m Irish Catholic, so I’m very familiar with alcoholics. It’s just in the blood, unfortunately.
Are you dreading turning 50 in six years because of the inevitable Sally O’Malley comments?
I try to accept aging as a natural course in life. Besides, I feel like Sally O’Malley was a very old, old 50; she seems more like 65. I meet real 50-year-olds, and my character seems so much older than those broads. But I do get asked to do that character at a lot of birthday parties!
The Advocate, October 2008; extended online version.